Yesterday I hosted Dr. Gary Namie, aka the “Workplace Doctor®” at MTSU. He spoke to an undergraduate Business Communications class, to a group of education faculty and students, to a graduate Current Issues in Management class, and then to a general session which was free and open to the public. If you attended, I think that you can agree he was stellar. Dr. Namie brought both personal experience (and a wealth of knowledge) to illuminate a topic that employers side-step: bullying at work. Although Namie did not specifically address student bullying, he did talk about abusive school superintendents and the emotional havoc they can wreck on teachers. Some of the main points that Dr. Namie made are the following:
- overabundance of talent;
- their “niceness;” and
- their inability and/or unwillingness to speak about their abusive experience.
Abusers “test the waters” to ascertain who would make the most likely victims, and then they target their sadistic, ignorant, and abusive behavior in the direction where they feel they can cause the greatest degree of humiliation with the amount of interference. One of the most severe consequences of bullying include PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder, in which individuals suffer hypervigilance, obsessive behavior, intrusive thoughts, and generalized anxiety.The effects of PTSD can last three to five years, and in some cases even a life time. Even though individuals may “recover” in that they are no longer consumed with hypervigilant behaviors, a subsequent stressful event can act as a trigger, signaling the same type of sensory and mental overload. Dr. Namie also explained that brain size, body chemistry, and even our DNA itself can be altered as a result of traumatic emotional occurrences. Despite the catastrophic consequences, only a minute fraction of abusers suffer any type of repercussions for the following reasons:
- individuals do not report the event due to shame;
- for those incidents that are reported, management inaction precludes any type of resolution;
- abusers are sometimes guilty of the “slime factor,” in other words “licking upward and kicking downward.” They can be masters of ingratiation to those in higher positions and are therefore not considered a threat by them.
For all of these reasons, those who are psychologically broken as part of the bullying process are the most likely to leave their jobs (and in some cases, their careers), because of an inability to continue work. As a possible resolution Namie discussed the Healthy Workplace Bill, which twenty states have already passed. This bill would allow employees to sue offenders as individuals in the advent of a bullying incident, and would encourage employers to have an anti-bullying policy in place to prevent future uncivil occurrences. Until we see organizations being proactive, we will continue to witness both the blatant and covert incivility which rocks individuals to their core, which breaks them psychologically, and which prevents their abusers to run free. We will continue to see evil unleashed within our workplaces.